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Can natural feed supplements improve stress resilience in commercial laying hens?

Biosciences Institute

Dr T Smulders , Dr P Wigley , Dr S Gartside , Dr T Boswell Friday, January 22, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Newcastle United Kingdom Agricultural Sciences Biochemistry Bioinformatics Endocrinology Evolution Molecular Biology Nutrition Other Zoology

About the Project

Restaurants and food retailers, alongside animal welfare organizations and legislative bodies, are placing ever-increasing demands on food producers regarding farm animal welfare. This is in response to customer demand for ethically produced food and for improvements in quality of life (i.e. how animals feel).

Such quality of life can be improved not only by changes to housing conditions and husbandry practices, but also by increasing the stress resilience of the animals. In this project, you will investigate the effect of a commercial feed supplement on stress resilience in laying hens. The supplement is a natural product derived from botanical secondary metabolites. To investigate stress resilience in hens, you will measure both acute and chronic stress responses. Outcome measures will be both behavioural and physiological, including molecular, neurochemical, and neuroanatomical indices. You will receive training in minor animal surgery and blood sampling, as well as a variety of laboratory techniques and microscopy. You will also learn how to use DNA sequencing and associated bioinformatics to identify microbiological communities in the guts of the chickens and relate this to their stress resilience.

You will work primarily in a university setting to conduct the experiments on small groups of laying hens. However, as part of your project, you will also spend time at the Lakes Free Range Egg Co, the largest producer of free-range eggs in the UK. There you will be able to conduct field trials of the feed supplement in a realistic commercial setting. The Canadian producer of the feed supplement is also an integral part of this collaboration and has offered to host the student at their facilities in North America for a short period of time. This is an ideal project for a student interested in animal welfare and in comparative physiology and neuroscience.

Informal enquiries may be made to


Applications should be made by emailing with a CV and a covering letter, including whatever additional information you feel is pertinent to your application; you may wish to indicate, for example, why you are particularly interested in the selected project/s and at the selected University. Applications not meeting these criteria will be rejected. We will also require electronic copies of your degree certificates and transcripts.

In addition to the CV and covering letter, please email a completed copy of the Newcastle-Liverpool-Durham (NLD) BBSRC DTP Studentship Application Details Form (Word document) to , noting the additional details that are required for your application which are listed in this form. A blank copy of this form can be found at:

Funding Notes

CASE studentships are funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for 4 years. Funding will cover tuition fees at the UK rate only, a Research Training and Support Grant (RTSG) and stipend. We aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK and are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


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